Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2015 dig

The Fulford Tapestry

Interpretation

Summary of published report

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Interpretation Finds 1 Finds 2  Finds 3 Finds 4 Finds 5 x-rays Iron the metal  Weights Methods Mass profile Tanged arrow

 

It is relevant to repeat the context, and the unique conditions, that prevailed after the battle of Fulford. Just five days elapsed from the day of the battle until the victors at Fulford were not simply defeated but, according to the contemporary sources, almost wiped out.

The further work might shed light on the drama that overtook the metal-workers, but it is this unique condition that, I believe, led to these assemblages being abandoned where they were quickly covered by flooding and vegetation.

One reason to believe that metal debris was re-cycled after battles is that the site at Senlac Hill is well known, yet there is no record of any artefacts being found that can be related to the battle of Hastings. The collection and recycling of material after the battle, which is suggested by the finds at Fulford, would be one way to account for this.

If the process of recycling was completed, as one would normally expect, then all of the material would have been carried away. All that might remain are the slag, hammerscale and perhaps some hearth debris. This would explain why it has indeed proved very difficult to identify ancient battlefields because the sites were 'tidied up' and useful evidence removed.

There appear to have been many reprocessing sites surrounding the battlefield. Using the model for the landscape developed earlier, plus the way the literature tells us that the battle was fought at Fulford, we find that the recycling activity is set back just behind the areas of fighting. It is important to recognise how very close this match is. Because the area of the fighting was subject to flooding, the places where the re-processing evidence has been located also lie as near as one can get to the battle without getting wet.

There is nothing to suggest that the activity started while the battle was in progress, which has been implied from some images on the Bayeux Tapestry. That is inconceivable given the layout at Fulford. It might have been out of respect for the dead, or for the more prosaic purpose of keeping out of the way of the ‘burial parties’, that the recycling took place perhaps just 10metres from the fighting, so this must have happened after the battle.

The balance of the samples of the billets does not suggest that the purpose of the work was domestic. A second survey of the areas would help to illuminate this point but the objects so far located appear to have a martial rather than a constructional or domestic purpose.

The recovery of so many billets, among which were metal working tools, invites us to speculate that the owner intended to return to this heavy haul. The destruction of the victors of Fulford at Stamford Bridge five days later is a sensible explanation for why the hoard was not recovered by its owner.

Fulford provides, for the first time, compelling evidence that metal working was carried out near the heart of the action. Until further work is carried out in the area of this smithing find and the adjacent charcoal stains, this work cannot be dated.

 

The material comes from four contexts at the heart of the battle site.

  1. A hoard of billets of many shapes and including some metal working tools.
  2. Site is adjacent to two separate, extensive areas of charcoal staining 1.1-1.3 m below the present level.  This staining lies just above a layer of peat that has been dated to the century before the battle. This area has yielded two metal working hearth, several tools and possibly some weapon fragments.
  3. Close to the river, the arrowheads were located along with a selection of what might be pert-made nails.
  4. In the area where Water Fulford would be built after the battle, there are was a rich collection of hearth items but this site is the hardest to assess because of the changes in this area.

The shape of some of the billets suggests weapon manufacture. These might be trade shapes for later manufacture. When the source material was revisited, 15 more possible billets were identified among the 'modern scrap' from the same context. A scan of material from other areas did not reveal any similar items. This suggests that metal working was localised. However, we have yet to survey the centre of the battle as we have been blocked by the developers.

What are the possible explanations?:

  • There is evidence of metal working in various places within medieval York  but there is no known source of iron in this area. The battlefield might have provided a source of scrap iron.
  • Twenty years ago similar debris was located on the site of the battlefield of Helgeå that took place 1026 in southern Sweden. It was tentatively interpreted by the finders as some kind of offering of weapons from the fallen soldiers. The defeat of the Norwegians and Swedes by Canute might have been one of Harald's first battles. It is an interesting coincidence that Fulford was Harald's last victory.
  • There are no large buildings, sources of raw material or other manufacture, such as shipbuilding nearby to explain the location of this metal working area.
  • There is no source of bog-iron or ore nearby nor is it very close to the river where such material might have been 'imported'.
  • One explanation for the quantity of material apparently abandoned, especially at site A, would be the disruption caused by the defeat at Stamford Bridge a few days later.
  • It is possible that the 2 sites so far identified were worked at different times, possibly centuries apart. We have a hoard of billets on one site and slag and cast iron residues from the other so it is impossible at present to compare the working techniques.

No weapons have been recovered from either Hastings or Stamford Bridge which might be taken to indicate that damaged material was thoroughly re-cycled. This provides a unique opportunity to test this hypothesis.

This material is certainly evidence of early metal working. However, until further investigations have been conducted on these finds, and the site re-visited, we are in the area of speculation.

Sorting  Interpretation Finds 1 Finds 2  Finds 3 Finds 4 Finds 5 x-rays Iron the metal  Methods

 

Related sites Facebook  Twitter (@ helpsavefulford)        Visiting Fulford        Map York

There is a site devoted to saving the battlesite: The site has the story of the process that has allowed the site to be designated an access road to a Green Belt, floodplain housing estate.

And another website for the Fulford Tapestry that tells the story of the September 1066: This tells the story embroidered into the panels.

The author of the content is Chas Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com  last updated June 2015

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